So I will plead guilty to the charge of tossing some red meat in my last post. It's fun, it's fast, and it's easy, but it makes it a little too easy for other people to put words in your mouth
. So instead of engaging in a game of pistols-at-dawn, I'd like to try and focus on the substance of my earlier criticisms.
Folk populism requires people willing to make sacrifices to defend what they love from encroaching destruction via spaghetti-like superhighways, foreign entanglements, megacorporations and megachurches, technological developments, mass media and hypermobility.
All of these features of modernity are systems of control by other, less violent means.
I want to pause for a minute on this because this last sentence is already making a very bold claim. It also has a distinctly Marxist cant to it. Now just to spell it out for everyone, I am not calling Caleb Stegall a disciple of of Lenin. I am not even saying that he is necessarily wrong. But I don't think it's unfair to note that over the past 50 years or so, if you simply bet "black" every time the faculty at the local college put their money on "red," you would probably come out ahead on 90% or more of the issues in question. So while the point is not to be dismissed out of hand it is reasonable to ask for a higher standard of evidence.
But not only is the notion stated as a fait accomplis
, Stegall barely pauses for a breath before taking the thesis considerably farther:
As Mr. Lasch cogently argued, they have the effect of harnessing and neutralizing populist discontent. How? By creating a cycle of dependence whereby local goods – intellectual, fiscal, cultural and generational capital (in the form of children) – are drawn into the maw of the centralized corporate-state. They are returned in the form of processed "goods" – products and services that prove to be remarkably habit-forming in a culture of dependency.
Again we have assertions without evidence or example. Now this is all great stem-winding stuff for sure. I don't doubt that it could get some heads nodding along at the local grange hall. But the indictment is awfully far-reaching. So let's look at his next graf wherein he reveals the machinery at work:
Here's how it works. Midwestern wheat farms are largely owned by massive agribusinesses that function as industrialized, oil-dependent factories dedicated to efficient mass production of their widget, which happens to be the wheat berry. The wheat berry is shipped to other factories for processing and packaging, shipped again to Wonder Bread Inc. for further refinement into a "bread product." This, in turn, is shipped to stadium-size retail "food outlets," purchased by the hurried and haggard farm laborer (who used to own the land the wheat was grown on) and taken home to make sandwiches for the kids to eat in front of the TV.
OK, there's a lot in here. Let's take it one piece at a time:"massive agribusinesses that function as industrialized, oil-dependent factories"
: Last I checked, family farms use tractors, fertilizers, and pesticides too. So I don't see how family farms would be significantly less industrialized or oil-dependent."efficient mass production of their widget, which happens to be the wheat berry"
: And small local farms are different how? Granted, they are often not cpable of efficiency on the scale of the massive agribusinesses (which explains why they exist), but within their own capabilities they certainly work their hardest to maximize their yield. And the whole "wheat berry" thing is just an epithet applied for rhetorical effect. Farmers don't grow wheat because their daddy and his daddy did, they grow it because it gives them the best profit. You can read journals written by farmers in colonial times which show them discussing how many acres of X and Y to plant because of market prices for those things. Farming is and has always been a business."The wheat berry is shipped to other factories for processing and packaging, shipped again to Wonder Bread Inc. for further refinement into a 'bread product.'"
Ah yes, that damned Wonder Bread! You know why people eat the stuff? It's those damned highways and megachurches. Wonder Bread has been around since 1930, but has fallen on hard times lately
as consumers discover that flavor and texture are not things to be frightened of. So much for elites controlling and manipulating our every decision. And does he really expect every baker to mill their own flour? They don't even do that in France."This, in turn, is shipped to stadium-size retail 'food outlets,' purchased by the hurried and haggard farm laborer"
: Have you ever known a farmer who wasn't hurried and haggard? It's awfully hard work. In fact, the farmer is less hurried and haggard as a result of not having to go to four or five different "food boutiques" in order to take care of the family's grocery needs."(who used to own the land the wheat was grown on)"
: When? 1885? By the 1920s we were becoming an unabashedly urban nation in population terms. And even prior to that a large proportion of people working on farms were hired hands."taken home to make sandwiches for the kids to eat in front of the TV."
: Would you be happier if they ate it in front of the radio?
OK, so let's re-write this paragraph, stripping out the hyperbole and "gravy," and see how it sounds:
Here's how it works. Midwestern wheat farms are largely owned by
massive agribusinesses large companies that function as industrialized, oil-dependent factories dedicated to efficient mass production of their widget, which happens to be the wheat berry. The wheat berry This is shipped to other factories for processing and packaging milled into flour and shipped again to Wonder Bread Inc. for further refinement into a "bread product" bread to bakers, whose bread This, in turn,
is shipped to
stadium-size retail "food outlets," supermarkets that save the purchased by the hurried and haggard farm laborer time (who used to own the land the wheat was grown on) so she can get and taken get home sooner to make sandwiches for the and eat dinner with her kids in front of the TV.
So maybe I went a little overboard in suggesting that Stegall was dancing on the razor's edge of moonie territory. But let's be clear here, he, not I, is the one suggesting the presence and fact of a wide-ranging conspiracy directed against at least half the population of the country. As evidence of this he offers the fact that Boston's bread is baked in Ohio from grain grown on a farm in Nebraska that is owned by a company rather than a family. I'd make a "rye" comment about this but I don't want anyone to think I'm comparing Stegall to Pol Pot, or even Kettle.